Born to Run - Dual Task Cognitive Effects of Ecological Unconstrained Running
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The interaction between exercise and cognitive task performance has been previously examined using cycle ergometer and treadmill running tasks. The interaction between natural (non-constrained) exercise and cognitive task performance has, however, been well less examined. An example of a natural exercise task would be running outdoors on a steep trail where route selection and foot placement are critical for the runner. The performance of runners is examined in a dual trail-running and working memory task. The working memory task involved counting tones, and was performed at both a low workload, in which they were asked to count every fourth low frequency tone and a high workload in which they were asked to count every fourth low, medium and high frequency tone. In experiment 1, runners performed the tone-counting tasks both while running on a steep trail with uneven terrain and while seated (control conditions). In addition, they ran the trail without a cognitive task load. Running distance and counting accuracy significantly decreased during the dual task trials, there was a linear trend the run distance decreased as the task got harder. As the secondary cognitive task demand increased running performance decreased (linear trend). Cognitive performance was only significantly impaired while running for the hard cognitive task (for the easy cognitive task there was no statistically significant difference). Participants reported an increased workload in the dual run-counting task conditions when compared with the seated task conditions. Reports of task focus and feeling of being spent (exhausted) also varied across task conditions. In experiment 2 unconstrained running was conducted in the same manner, on a flat-even terrain track to establish if the route selection and scanning required to negotiate uneven terrain was causing the dual-task interference, or if there is a general interference effect caused by the self-regulatory demands of running, or the direct demands of running itself (exercise). The linear trend of decreased running performance with increased secondary cognitive demand was similar to experiment 1 - the more cognitive load the less distance traveled. The effect on the cognitive task was, however, not evident in experiment 2; there was no statistically significant difference between cognitive task performance in the dual and single-task conditions. The findings outlined in these experiments, demonstrate dual cognitive tasks have a negative effect on running performance, and the cognitive task may also be affected depending on running intensity, particularly where self-paced natural running over terrain is coupled with complex cognitive tasks.